Cleveland Sports Insiders

Ernie Camacho's favorite blog…

The Sunday Drive with playoff implications, fights and rumors

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Cameron runs over Bengals (photo: AP)

Cameron runs over Bengals (photo: AP)

I’ve never gotten used to November weather here in North Carolina since I moved here from the North Coast nearly fifteen years ago. There’s always a constant battle of Summer, Fall and sometimes Winter that always leaves me a bit off balance.

I mean seriously, it snowed here this past Thursday night, then climbed up to 70 on Saturday.

It’s November.

There should be no mixing of shorts and jeans, t-shirts and coats, ice scrapers and air conditioning.

It’s nearly as off-putting as Cleveland sports, to be honest. You have the Browns at 4-5, who either have two potential quarterbacks for 2014, or none, depending on who you talk to. Of course, there’s 2013, and a legit chance at winning the division, or getting into the playoffs.

Or not.

There’s the Cavaliers, who are either beating the tar outta each other in players-meetings, or not. They had the #1 pick in the NBA, and he’s been playing like a D-League player. Dion is awesome with the ball, but bad without it. Kyrie is better without the ball, than with it. The Cavaliers will be an exciting playoff contender this year.

Or not.

Then there’s the Indians. They rebuild their team in a season and motor into the playoffs with a ten-game win streak, only to lose the one-game playoff that was instituted for the first time ever last season. They seem ready to make a few moves to take them over the top, but may not have the money to do it. They are ready to make the next move to become better.

Or not.

North Carolina weather and Cleveland Sports…hot and cold.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Cleveland Browns are playing their biggest game of the season, and not even arguably, their biggest game in several years. It’s also a game that’s not likely going to get much play in the media outlets today.

That’s what happens when your battle for the division lead is between two teams that haven’t really been a factor in much discussion in football circles over the past several years, and when it involves teams that are hovering around .500.

None of that matters though.

The Browns can really take a major stride with a victory today over their Ohio brethren.

The Browns are 1 ½ games behind the Bengals in the standings, but with a win today in Cincinnati, they’ll have beaten the Bengals in both meetings. It will also give the Browns a 2-1 record in the AFC North, with the Steelers coming into town next week.

The Bengals have a bye week next week, and would fall to 1-3 in the division.

In other words, if the Browns win their next two, they’d be tied in the standings with the Bengals, have beaten them twice, and have a 3-1 vs. a 1-3 record in the North.

That’s grabbing control of your destiny.

Of course, they have to win their next two games, and that’s not going to be easy.

There are some things to consider on the surface with regards to the Cincinnati Bengals. They have lost their last two games, both in overtime, to two suspect teams. They’ll be snorting to win this game at home, and will no doubt be amped up.

These are the kinds of games that good coaching staffs love, because they can take advantage of a team amped up. I’m not saying the Browns staff is ready to take that step, but it will be interesting to watch the game plan early on in the game. The Bengals have a really good defense, but I expect the Browns offense to take advantage of some overplay.

Also don’t discount the extra week the Browns have had with the bye week. It’s another measure of a good coaching staff.

In other words, I’m expecting the game plan from Rob Chudzinski and his coaches to be sound. This could be the game that is looked at as the stepping stone for the Browns going forward…win or lose. If they play well, it’s a game changer for me.

I absolutely hated the Trent Richardson deal. I hated it as much as the Brandon Weeden pick. That may be overstating, but I did hate it a lot.

I was flat out wrong.

The move has turned out to be brilliant. Richardson may not even be the SECOND best back in Indianapolis when it’s all said and done, and the Browns now have their first round pick. Regardless of where that pick is in the draft, and regardless of who the Browns take…

…it’s a massive net gain.

In recent years, the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers have been known for their bruising defenses. My, how the mighty have fallen. There has been no bigger culture shift in any division than the one that’s taken place in the AFC North.

In fairness, the Bengals’ defenses run by Mike Zimmer have been good over the past few years, but they’ve taken another step in 2013 thanks to some solid signings this offseason. The Browns have taken another move up as well, thanks to new defensive coordinator Ray Horton and his 3-4 approach.

The Bengals and Browns are the fourth and fifth best defenses in the league with regards to yards per game, and sixth (Bengals) and ninth (Browns) with regards to points per game.

The Bengals have the seventh best pass defense, while the Browns are tenth, but the Browns are sixth against the run, while the Bengals are ninth.

The Browns are tied for fifth in the league with 31 sacks, and the Bengals are seventh with 30. What’s most impressive about both teams sack totals are how spread out they are. The Browns sack leader is rookie Barkevious Mingo, with 4, followed by Desmond Bryant with 3 ½, and Craig Robertson with 3. Nine players on the team have at least two sacks or more.

Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap lead the Bengals with six each. Wallace Gilberry has four and Vincent Rey three. The Bengals have seven players with two or more sacks. Of course, Geno Atkins is out for the year, so perhaps there are some chinks in the armor.

In other words, it’s a team effort for the Browns and Bengals defenses, and they’ll be facing off against quarterbacks that can rattle under Pressure.

The defenses will decide this game.

What about the quarterbacks? When the Browns beat the Bengals in week four, which seems about four seasons ago, Brian Hoyer was busy going 25-38 for 269 yards and two touchdowns. Jordan Cameron had 10 catches for 91 yards and a touchdown, and Josh Gordon had four catches for 71 yards.

Andy Dalton was an inefficient 23-42, without a pick and with one interception.

Hoyer’s long gone, and while Dalton has played a bit better since, he’s been downright terrible over the past two.

So what are the differences heading into this meeting?

Jason Campbell for one.

Campbell has started two games for the Browns, and he’s been a revelation when compared to Weeden. He’s gone 45-for-71 in his two starts, with five touchdowns and without an interception. His QB rating is a stout 106.6, and he’s just looked good.

He isn’t zeroing in on targets. Josh Gordon has eight catches for 176 yards, Greg Little has eight catches for 130 yards. Jordan Cameron has five catches for 85 yards, Chris Ogbonnaya has eight catches for 54 yards and Davone Bess has six catches for 51 yards.

He spreads the ball, doesn’t make mistakes, and is a veteran leader in the huddle. Watch Campbell in any game, and what you note is that he gets how to check down and wait for his open receivers. He throws it away before sacks, and knows how to manage the pocket.

In other words…he’s everything that Brandon Weeden, and quite often, Andy Dalton isn’t.

Andy Dalton is about as erratic as they come.

He was the player of the month in October, but has been anything but that in November.

If the Browns can pressure Dalton, they can win this game.

Where the Bengals have the clear advantage is at running back. I absolutely love Giovani Bernard. He’s really…really good. He has a nose for the endzone, is getting 20-plus touches, and in my opinion, is a top ten back in the NFL. Hehad my favorite run in the NFL this year against the Dolphins on Thursday night on a toss-sweep to the right. The Dolphins had him dead to rights for an eight-yard loss, but Gio bounced off the tackle, reversed direction, swept all the way back to left, ran down the sidelines for 25 yards, before cutting back right and scoring as good a 40-yard TD as you’ll see.

But the Browns can stop him.

At the end of the day, this is an interesting match-up. The Browns have the edge at QB, the offensive line, tight end and the defensive line (thanks to Atkins being out). The linebackers are a push, but with the Browns healthy, and with injury issues with the Bengals Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga (Burfict is playing, while Maualuga and perhaps James Harrison are not), the Browns may have the edge there as well. The Browns may even have the edge in the defensive backfield with Joe Haden, T.J. Ward and Buster Skrine playing so well.

This is still a tough game for the Browns to win, but it should be a close game, and a good, ole-fashioned AFC North defensive battle.

The Cleveland Cavaliers players-only meeting on Wednesday night after they were shellacked by the Minnesota Timberwolves may prove to be much ado about nothing. Former local beat writer and current ESPN columnist Brian Windhorst reported Saturday afternoon that the Cavaliers may be “dealing with some chemistry problems within the locker room.” He also stated that “the Cavaliers held a players-only meeting” and that “the meeting got contentious, and players confronted each other.”

All of that may be true, but what came out of it was a bunch of rampant speculation about who was involved in the confrontation, with most of the attention focusing on Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving. Sam Amico immediately pulled out a source that said it “involved Dion Waiters.” Anthony Lima speculated that it was “a mutiny against Kyrie.”

Who really knows at this point. The Cavs came out and won their first road game of the season, a 103-96 victory over the Washington Wizards in overtime. Irving dominated the game with 41 points, including nine overtime points, leading the Cavs back from a fifteen point deficit earlier in the game.

In the post-game aftermath, several reports came out that the meeting was likely not as confrontational as the ESPN report led everyone to believe. The Akron Beacon Journal’s Jason Lloyd, who allegedly received a tip about the players-only meeting on Friday night but didn’t report it so he could begin ‘poking around’ on Saturday, noted after the game that “the meeting was intense,” but “overblown and it wasn’t combative, nor was Dion Waiters a target of the meeting.”

Lloyd was told this information from two players that he trusts, but didn’t name the players.

The Plain Dealer’s Mary Schmitt Boyer went one step further than Lloyd, interviewing Jarrett Jack and C.J. Miles prior to Saturday Night’s game. Jack told Boyer that “if you’re going to have a talk or any conversation, a resolution should be the reason for having it in the first place. That was the whole reason why we called the meeting, had the discussions. I like the place that we’re in right now.”

Miles said that the Cavs “basically agreed to what we wanted to do and (were) just going to keep moving forward.”

Coach Mike Brown likened it to “the better teams.”

“The Better teams, when they start being able to take ownership and look each other in the eye and say whatever they feel like they need to say to one another, then, to me, that’s a positive.”

When asked about Dion Waiters, Brown said “he’s been to the doctor twice…the doctor takes care of it and we move on.”

Take that all for what it’s worth. The Cavs don’t play until Wednesday, at home, against the same Wizards. Dion Waiters should be back, and I suspect we’re going to hear a bit more about all of this between now and then.

What’s my take on it?

Where there is smoke, there is fire. There clearly was a players-only meeting, and there really should have been. There clearly was some contention, and there likely was some confrontation. There’s nothing odd about any of that between athletes in a locker room.

This is a young team with eight brand new players on the roster in Anthony Bennett, Earl Clark, Andrew Bynum, Henry Sims, Sergey Karasev, Jarrett jack, Matthew Dellavedova and Carrick Felix. The “leaders” of the team, at least on the court, are Kyrie Irving (21), Dion Waiters (21) and Tristan Thompson (22).

They have a new coach that focuses on defense, and has a history of struggling to implement offenses.

This is going to take some time, and there are going to be some growing pains. It may even get a bit worse, before it gets better. At the end of the day though, this will likely prove to be a positive week for the Cavaliers growth. As more information comes out of this meeting, I’m sure that we’ll see true leaders beginning to take shape.

I’m intrigued with Earl Clark. Alright…alright…I wanted to cut him four days ago. Since I said that, the 25-year old forward has scored 15 and 11 in back-to-back nights, become an outside threat, and found himself in the starting line-up once again. Against Charlotte, Clark played in over 20 minutes (24 ½) for the first time since opening night, and on Saturday night, he went over 30 for the first time in his Cavs career.

During that two game stretch, the 6’10” Clark has gone 6-for-7 from behind the arc, grabbed eight boards, and given the team a big-time boost both off the bench and in the starting line-up.

Where is he getting his minutes?

From Anthony Bennett, who played in only seven minutes against Charlotte on Friday, and who was a healthy scratch on Saturday night. It will be interesting to see what happens with Bennett going forward.

As long as Clark is playing well, it could buy some time for the FIRST OVERALL PICK to get into shape.

Jarrett Jack needs to play better. I’ll cut him a bit of slack because of the few minutes he played in the pre-season, but he needs to step up and become the veteran presence that the Cavs need.

There will come a point when I really start to question Mike Brown, not with the offense, but how he handles Anderson Varejao. During the second half of last night’s game, Varejao’s 3″ vertical leap was non-existent. His legs were done. He was still fairly effective, but you could tell that he was laboring.

Remember, Varejao had only played in 81 total games in his three years leading to this season. Yet Mike Brown is playing him in a whole bunch of minutes. His lowest minute total so far this season has been 28:33, and he’s played over 30 minutes six times so far this year, and over 40 minutes once.

I know Andy wants to play, and I also know that the Cavs need him, but we’re in the eleventh game of the season. Is it me, or are we already on the “Andy watch.” This team can’t be a playoff team without him all season. If that means we cut his minutes by five or ten to keep him healthy, I’m all in.

That’s why Earl Clark playing well is important.

That’s why Anthony Bennett has to pull his head out of his plump ass.

That’s why Henry Sims and Tyler Zeller has to find a way to be competent.

That’s why signing Andrew Bynum was so important.

At the end of the day though, Varejao’s minutes are 100% tied to Bynum. If he can play 20-25 minutes a night over the long haul, then this team will be that much more effective.

One last thing about Mike Brown. His offense is taking heat, and for good reason. It’s not very good. I know, you have to give it time. I know, you have to blame the players as well. Here’s the thing: if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…it’s a duck.

Mike Brown’s offenses have always been suspect, and that’s just the way it is. You can debate it all you want, but it’s the truth. Here’s the thing though. If the defense is as good as it can be, then the offense will take care of itself…as it did on Saturday Night.

His offense is frustrating, and it will likely always will be until this team wins a title. He’s a good coach who will ultimately get this team to play well. It’s going to be a bumpy ride though.

One more thing about Chris Grant. The Cavaliers are a strangely build team, with some strangely performing players. When you throw Anthony Bennett into the mix, you have many…many questions to ask about Grant’s performance.

Here’s what I can tell you though. The drafts over the past few years have been strange, and without typical stars to pick from when the Cavs had their choices, you can’t be that critical. By February, all these questions will likely have some answers though. The Cavs have played 11 games.

If you look at Kyrie, Dion, Tristan and Anthony, you have four players that were all chosen within the top five picks. Kyrie has questions, but is a star. Tristan has questions, but he’s the hardest worker on the team and likely the leader. Dion is fantastic with the ball, and looks like he has cement blocks on his feet without it. All three have solid enough pieces of their game, that you can understand why they were picked that high.

Then there’s Anthony Bennett.

He looks clueless. He looks absolutely clueless.

Watch Victor Oladipo play for a couple minutes. Watch Ben McLemore play for a couple minutes. Watch Michael Carter-Williams play for a couple minutes. They look like NBA players.

I’m not playing with hindsight, because I really wanted Victor Oladipo on this team, and thought that Ben McLemore was a great potential star as well.

I get why he picked Bennett, and he may still pan out…but boy…he needs to get better…soon.

These are the types of picks that can cost jobs.

I’m nowhere near the Cleveland Indians right now. I heard rumors of Corey Kluber to the Los Angeles Anges and Mark Trumbo, but know how absolutely ridiculous a deal that is on paper. It’s especially ridiculous if the Indians aren’t bringing back Scott Kazmir and/or Ubaldo Jimenez.

Of course, if the Indians do bring in Kazmir and perhaps a starter like Tim Hudson, then I could see Kluber on the block…but do you really want to deal a controllable asset while bringing in high priced, older guys like Kazmir and Hudson? The move seems counterintuitive for an overrated player like Trumbo.

Buster Olney also threw in some news that there were multiple teams interested in Drew Stubbs, but of course, failed to mention who those teams were. The national media’s need to find out surface information about teams like the Indians, and publish it as insider news, is getting ridiculous.

Of course there are teams interested in Drew Stubbs.

Are the Indians interested in any players on the St. Louis Cardinals? Are the Indians interested in any Seattle Mariners? When you go to the GM meetings in November, you talk about a ton of players.

The facts are simple: the Indians aren’t going to get much for Drew Stubbs. Think about it. How did the Indians get him last year? He was essentially a throw-in for a multi-team deal that focused on Shin-Soo Choo, Trevor Bauer and Didi Gregarious. The Reds threw him in because they had nowhere for him to go.

So what would the Indians get back for him? At best, they get back a lower level prospect.

This isn’t a knock on Stubbs, to say the least. I love him on this team, and he provides a whole lot of value both as a guy that can play all three outfield positions, and a guy that can motor on the basepaths. He’s just not a star.

If he’s dealt, it will be as a part of a package that will likely bring the Indians another outfielder, or he’ll be essential to the Indians if they can deal Michael Bourn.

He won’t be a primary trade piece though.

After reading Steve Orbanek’s piece on Friday at Indians Baseball Insider, I actually am feeling good about the rotation next year. No, I don’t think it’s the greatest rotation of all time, and yes I do feel that the Indians need to pick up another piece or two, but the Indians have a solid foundation.

Justin Masterson is in a contract year, and he’ll be fine as the veteran ace. Danny Salazar will be better than Masterson by the year’s end, and will finally be able to shut up those saying the term “ace” is thrown around too much. You know, we say it so much in Cleveland with all their “aces.” Corey Kluber is found his niche in the middle of the rotation, and Zach McAllister is better than people think.

Past that, there are a lot of questions.

Trevor Bauer, of course, and Carlos Carrasco will figure into things again. Josh Tomlin is another name that’s mentioned, and perhaps a guy like Cody Anderson can figure into things before too long. There’s just not the depth though. The Indians need Scott Kazmir, or someone they think can be as good as Kaz, and they also need to sign some other parts as well.

Injuries happen.

Remember, Masterson, Kluber and McAllister all had injury issues in 2013 that caused them to go on the DL, and the only worry with Salazar is his injury history. Carlos Carrasco essentially missed two years as well, and Trevor Bauer’s mechanics look straight outta Compton.

In other words…we lost our depth.

We have to get it back.

Some tidbits for the rearviewmirror:

  • I chuckle at the discussion on whether or not to include Ohio State in the National Title game this coming January. The Big Ten has been a national joke for years now, and it immediately puts any team from the Big Ten behind the eight ball. Ohio State hasn’t lost a game since Urban Meyer joined the team two years ago, and yet, they are continually shrugged off in favor of Florida St. and Alabama. Without getting too far into, here is who Florida St. has beaten thusfar, in their 10-0 season: Pitt, Nevada, Bethune-Cookman, Boston College, Maryland, Clemson, N.C. State, Miami (FL), Wake Forest and Syracuse. There’s one win of note there, and that’s against Clemson. In the end though, how much better is the ACC? Florida St. may be a better football team (especially defensively), but it’s time to move past the media bias. As far as Alabama goes, they deserve to be number one until someone beats them. They’ve earned it. As for everyone else? Let’s see how things shake out. Who really cares at the end of the day. I’ll be honest. There’s a small part of me that wants the Buckeyes to go undefeated for two straight years heading into next season….without a national title. Do you think Meyer will be able to get his team up for that? Would be fun.
  • The Ohio State Buckeyes basketball team completely shut down Marquette yesterday, at Marquette. Marquette made it to the Elite Eight last season, and had won 27 in a row at home. Ohio State held them to 35 points…altogether. This team can defend. They’ll be challenged offensively, but they can defend. Aaron Craft is the poster child for outstanding defense, but let me just say this: Amir Williams is the key. If he can come into his own this year, on offense and defense, the Buckeyes will be better than people think. Williams is an incredible athlete, who at times, looks like Anthony Bennett on the court. This year, things are clicking a bit. If he develops, he could end up being the true start of the 2013-2014 Ohio State Buckeyes.

Author: Jim Pete

Jim KNOWS that Albert Belle deserved the MVP, and that the false prophet, Mo Vaughn did not. He thinks that Mike and Greg Pruitt are truly related, because, c'mon, what are the chances? He cries at least once a day, watching videos of LeBron's block, followed by Kyrie's shot. He loves miracles at Richfield, Ron Harper, parking at Gate D, Alex Cole park dimensions, and the glorious Kenny Lofton, who is the REAL Alex Cole. When he isn't writing or talking Cleveland sports for EHC, he moonlights as a husband, father, coach, teacher, Twitter screamer, golfer, runner, and lover of spaghetti carbonara. He also commutes from Raleigh to the North Coast, because it builds character

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